The Wichita Falls High School Coyotes have had two strong seasons under Head Coach Danny Russell, and while some experts think they might regress a bit this year, don't tell that to the Coyotes.
"We always like the underdog status," Russell said. "We liked it when we got here, we liked it last year, and we like it this year."
This role is nothing new for Old High. After recording back-to-back playoff seasons for the first time since 2006 and 2007, Dave Campbell's Texas Football has the Coyotes picked sixth out of eight teams in District 5-5A.
"A lot of people have doubted us," said junior running back Stephen Gaines. "That's every year, and that's everyone. But it motivates us to go further and strive and go harder, and have a really good season."
"The same year (2013) they predicted us last, we went four rounds deep," said senior quarterback Johnathan Campbell. "So I'm not really too much worried about it. I know what we can do, and we've just got to go out and do it."
"We know what we're capable of," said Coach Russell. "We did graduate a very talented group of seniors last year, and that's hard to replace. But, you know we've got a great group of young kids in here. They're young, but they're good."
Campbell will take over under center for the Coyotes this season. He backed up Eric Butler the past two seasons, but got a taste of being the starter when he took the injured Butler's place in Week Three of last year against Keller Central.
He threw for 231 yards and a touchdown, including several long completions, in a 27-7 win.
"Last year I just grew as the year went on, learning from Eric Butler," Campbell said. "And [getting to play] just gave me more feel to the game, let me get a little more experience in, and feeling more confident as I go."
"Well I think it helps his confidence, obviously," Coach Russell said. "You know, playing quarterback is a big confidence thing. You've got to have it. But I think it also helps this team a great deal, because they have confidence in him."
They're also replacing their running back. Gaines takes over after the graduation of Robert Williams. Gaines ran for 464 yards and four scores last year, as the team's second-leading rusher.
"You can't replace a thousand-yard rusher that was here for two years in a row," Coach Russell cautioned. "But I'm gonna tell you what, we're not going to take a step down at running back. That was a strong spot for us a year ago, and two years ago, and it's a strong spot for us again this year."
Gaines credits Williams's leadership last year in preparing him to step in.
"He was our big-time leader," Gaines said. "I looked up to him a lot. He helped me out a lot with my plays, and really was just there."
On defense, Coach Russell said the strength would be up front, in a young but talented defensive line.
"We've got three sophomores playing on the d-line that are going to get significant time," Russell said. "And then two of the other three that are going to play significant minutes are juniors. So, a year from now it looks extremely promising. But I still believe that that's one of our more talented groups."
As usual, the Coyotes will need to deal with lower numbers than most teams at their level. Their roster for this year has 45 kids, which puts them more in line with teams like Graham and Burkburnett than most of their Class 5A competitors.
"That's kind of an issue we've fought the first couple years I've been here," Coach Russell said. "But we had more depth the last two years than we have this year. We're still talented, we're still very good in spots. We're just one or two bodies short here and there, of being as deep as I'd like to be."
The Coyotes open the season tonight (Thursday) at 7 p.m. against Mansfield Summit, at Memorial Stadium.